100 Heroes: Hadrian

The gay man who ruled the Roman Empire.

100 Heroes: Hadrian

Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138.

Hadrian’s first cousin was Emperor Trajan. When Trajan died, his widow claimed that he had nominated Hadrian as emperor immediately before his death.

Early life

Hadrian was born in the year 76, probably in Italica which is near modern-day Seville.

Hadrian’s parents died when he was ten years old. He and his sister became wards of his cousin Trajan, which saw them relocating to Rome.

Hadrian undertook a number of military roles and appeared well-versed in the politics of the Roman senate and the ruling class. Hadrian’s profile grew considerably once Trajan became Emperor.

Rise to power

Upon Trajan’s death, Hadrian was able to establish his succession and secure Senate support for his claim to become Emperor.

Hadrian in Britannia

As Hadrian took control of the Empire, the province of Britannia was in turmoil. From the year 119 until 121, the Roman army was focused on trying to suppress a major rebellion in Britannia.

In the year 122, Hadrian gave orders for the construction of a wall across the northern regions of Britannia, separating Roman lands from the ‘barbarians’ further north. This is now referred to as Hadrian’s wall, and was intended as a fortification against the clans of Scotland.

Hadrian and Antinous

It’s not known when Hadrian first met Antinous – a young man of humble birth who became the most significant relationship in Hadrian’s life.

It’s assumed that Antinous was sent to Rome when he was around the age of 13, where he most likely worked as a page to serve the emperor - soon becoming the imperial favourite.

Hadrian travelled extensively during his reign, and Antinous was by his side.

Antinous drowned while Hadrian and his entourage were sailing on the Nile. The precise circumstances of the death of Antinous remain a mystery, but it left Hadrian distraught.

Hadrian had Antinous deified, and founded the city of Antinöpolis in his honour.

Final years

Without any children of his own, Hadrian adopted the man who would become the emperor Antoninus Pius.

Hadrian died in the year 138, at the age of 62.

Hadrian’s legacy was a consolidation of the Empire’s territories and a codification of its laws.

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